"Fundamentally, Chinese food is very simple. Good Chinese food is no more difficult to cook than good Italian food the basic principles are the same: freshness, simplicity and the preservation of the uniqueness of each ingredient."
—From the introduction to Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine
Susanna Foo, owner of Philadelphia's outstanding Chinese restaurant, believes tastes are formed in childhood. and what extraordinary influences touched her early years! She was born in Inner Mongolia, in a village that no longer exists on the map. This area is known for distinctive preparations of noodles and lamb, liberally seasoned with garlic, scallions, chives and leeks. A move to Kao-hsiung, a Tawainese coastal town surrounded by farm lands, introduced her to an abundance of fresh seafood and vegetables. Her father's military career as a soldier (and later a general) in Chiang Kai-shek's army afforded the family the opportunity to entertain American military officers and exposed Foo to western culture.
As revealed in her long-awaited first book, Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, The Fabulous Flavor and Innovative Recipes of North America's Finest Chinese Cook (Chapters Publishing), cooking has always been a family affair for Foo. Her mother taught her an appreciation for light, delicate food, and her elderly grandmother showed her how to make noodles and dumplings. She learned Hunan-style cooking from her mother-in-law and Chinese northern-style cooking from her cousin.
These varied influences are clearly reflected in Foo s recipes. Because her father disliked rice (it was served only in his absence), her family's staples were noodles, dumplings and pancakes. Foo's offerings include Noodles with Pork from Shanxi, Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Scallions, Pan-fried Scallion Bread and Curried Chicken Dumplings Her love of vegetables is also apparent. "As they were throughout my childhood, vegetables are the star attractions of my meals," she writes. Water Chestnut, Arugula and Endive Salad; Baked Creamy Napa Cabbage; and Spicy Mushrooms with Garlic and Black Bean Sauce are among the varied attractions of this substantial chapter.
Recalling the fish and seafood from her childhood years on the coast of Taiwan, Foo treats each fish differently so that its characteristics are not lost. A subtle marinade keeps Salmon with Black Bean Sauce tender and moist, and a double cooking technique from the Sichuan Province makes Auntie Wu's Braised Red Snapper with Garlic and Ginger crisp and flavorful on the outside, while juicy on the inside. Chapters on Fowl, Veal, Pork, Lamb and Beef, Rice, Bread and Desserts round out this celebratory banquet that Foo presents to home cooks.
Although she is open to new ingredients, Foo remains a traditionalist at heart, though not a rigid one. "Everything I cook is based on what I remember from childhood. There is no need to improve the classical dishes—they have been popular for thousands of years. But a good cook should be open- minded," she explains in the book's introduction. Nontraditional seasonings are usually chosen because they approximate tastes she remembers from childhood. For instance, she uses balsamic vinegar because its mellow flavor is similar to the black Shanxi vinegar from the province of her father in Northern China. When an occasional recipe calls for specialty ingredients like fresh water chestnuts, Foo almost always suggests a substitute—in the case of water chestnuts, jicama. For most of these recipes, everything needed is readily available in local supermarkets.
Headnotes and essays add personal charm, as Foo shares food-related anecdotes from her childhood, Chinese legends, amusing stories, menu suggestions, advice on how to avoid common mistakes and explanations of traditional Chinese ingredients and techniques.
Amy Tan writes in the foreword to Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, "Chinese food is a feast for all the senses. we take sensual pleasure in the sizzle and crunch, the intense and delicate flavors, the kaleidoscope colors of many courses. To me, Chinese food is an expression of passion. To creates some of the best memories in life." Susanna Foo graciously invites you to participate in that feast and create your own memories.
Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine
The Fabulous Flavors and Innovative Recipes of
North America's Finest Chinese Cook by Susanna Foo
Photography by Louis B. Wallach
October 15, 1995
30 full-color photographs throughout
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